Hundreds of dogs face a cruel death on Bulgaria’s streets after Eurotunnel imposed a ban on groups of animals being taken across the Channel from France.
The strays face being shot and poisoned, following the restriction on more than five pets being transported into the UK at once.
The Street Hearts Bulgaria rescue programme has 40 dogs – which were due to be adopted by owners in the UK – that are now left in limbo.
Eurotunnel Le Shuttle announced the move with immediate effect on Thursday, apparently in response to illegal puppy smuggling, leading to an outcry from animal rescue groups. Exceptions have been included for ‘Defra-approved transport’ and for groups with business accounts, but confusion surrounds trips from Calais.
Street Hearts co-founder Emma Smith said the plight of strays was ‘heartbreaking’, with their kennels full to capacity with 100 dogs and puppies.
She said: ‘We’ve fully licensed in Bulgaria and we have got all the relevant documents but there is conflicting information.
‘At first Eurotunnel said we could travel with a business account but then they changed their minds, and we can’t even get through to Defra.
‘It’s a big mess and it’s having a knock-on effect. We are effectively dog wardens but our shelter’s full.
‘There’s lots of puppies on the streets and it’s already-minus five at night. Puppies aged five to six weeks old are not going to survive in winter, they are just going to die.
‘Those that do survive the weather face being shot and poisoned because people don’t want them on the streets.
‘The frustrating thing is that all of our dogs are vaccinated, neutered and blood-tested to check for diseases.
‘We’ve done everything right at this end, but it feels like we’re being punished.’
Emma, 45, a former police officer, and husband Anthony, 52, an off-shore diver, work across two municipalities in north central Bulgaria after originally moving to the country from Yorkshire for a career break in 2013.
Moved by the plight of the dogs, they set up their independent non-governmental organisation, which also runs a neutering programme to reduce the number of strays.
Prospective owners in the UK are waiting on 40 dogs from Street Hearts BG over the next few weeks. Twenty were due to go out on Wednesday.
‘It’s heart-breaking and it’s moved us to tears,’ Emma said.
‘We took a puppy in on Friday because there was no way I could leave him on the streets, and now our shelter is full with nowhere for the dogs to go.Maskless woman spits at Waitrose cashier and shouts 'you're dead'
‘We’ve called the puppy Brownie, he was just running around a park and wouldn’t have survived otherwise, there’s nowhere else for them to go that will treat them humanely.
‘If we can’t rehome dogs we can’t rescue them either and it really puts our NGO’s future in jeopardy.
‘We’ve done everything by the book and we were trying to show people a different way, including through educating children.
‘We’re just stressed and worried and we’re waiting for answers.’
Eurotunnel Le Shuttle said in a statement that the number of pets being carried in a vehicle would be limited to five, due to ‘concerns for the welfare of some of these animals’.
Organisations using Defra-approved transport and those with a Eurotunnel business account are exempt, the operator said,
But animal rescue groups claim the limit was imposed suddenly and not thought through, putting thousands of dogs and cats’ lives across Europe in jeopardy, especially in countries where spay and neuter are not widely available.
As with Street Hearts, not every group transporting rescued dogs is a charity and many do not have business accounts.
Rescue dogs do not meet the requirements for pets to travel by ferry.
Overnight, Eurotunnel changed its advice from ‘Defra-approved charities’ to ‘Defra-approved transport’ – but animal campaigns say they are still none the wiser.
Emma Billington, of Dogs 4 Rescue, a Community Interest Company in Manchester, has launched a petition calling on the company to reverse the decision.
‘There’s also no such thing as a Defra-approved charity, they don’t have anything to do with charities, and Eurotunnel have since changed it to Defra-approved transport.
‘It’s the same across all the rescue groups, no one going anywhere at the minute. In the meantime it’s costing the lives of dogs and cats every day.’
In the latest statement, Eurotunnel said: ‘In order to protect the welfare of all our customers and their pets being transported via the Channel Tunnel, Eurotunnel Le Shuttle has taken the decision to limit the number of pets carried in a vehicle to 5 (five).
‘This decision has been made necessary due to a recent increase in the number of vehicles arriving at our terminal carrying large numbers of animals, and concerns for the welfare of some of those animals raised by our staff and other passengers.
‘We wish to clarify that these restrictions will NOT apply to DEFRA approved charities or those organisations with a business account with Eurotunnel Le Shuttle, where we can be assured that animal welfare standards are being observed.
‘We would like to offer our sincere apologies for any distress caused in the meantime and hope that any affected by this necessary modification to policy will understand that, for all of us at Eurotunnel, animal welfare must come first.’
It’s understood that Defra would not take part in a commercial decision and Eurotunnel may be issuing further clarification.
View the petition here
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